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July 12, 2011

Liverpool row over Anfield gets heated

Staffing constraints usually keep me from covering European stadium campaigns, but it's tough to ignore the news out of Liverpool, where the owners of Liverpool FC are likely abandoning plans to expand Anfield, the site where they've played for the last 119 years, and instead will likely look to build a new stadium in a nearby public park.

Making things especially interesting is that Liverpool is owned by the Fenway Sports Group, aka Boston Red Sox owner John Henry. And while Henry initially said he would prefer a Fenway-style rehab of Anfield, team exec Ian Ayre now says that's unlikely to happen:

"Land/property acquisition, environmental and statutory issues are creating barriers to our ambition.
"It looks increasingly unlikely there is any way we can move forward on a refurbishment of Anfield."...
"In terms of a Stanley Park stadium versus redevelopment, there is absolutely no question that a refurbishment of Anfield would come at a significantly lower cost than a new build.
"It's disappointing that based on where we are at the moment, we seem to be unable to press on with the more viable economic option of a refurbishment, but we remain committed to finding the best possible long-term solution."

So if rebuilding is cheaper and the owners want to do it, what's the holdup? FoS correspondent David Dyte helpfully provides aerial evidence:

Note the housing surrounding the current stadium, and the relative wide open spaces of Stanley Park to the north. David observes that "'statutory obstacles' sounds like code for 'eminent domain is a pain in the ass in England' to me," and it looks like he's correct, more or less: A report in the Independent notes that Liverpool was looking at buying up properties around Anfield for an expansion, but that the club balked at requirements that they compensate local residents through a community benefits agreement, known in the UK as a Section 106 Agreement.

Liverpool city council leader Joe Anderson has now lashed back at Henry's team yesterday, declaring:

"You can't build something right next to someone's house that blocks daylight — whether Liverpool FC like it or not. That is something that exists. It existed 10 years ago when they were talking about it then, and it exists today.
"They are not our rules, they are national legal requirements. We will do everything we can to assist Liverpool FC and help them. ... There is a cost in redeveloping Anfield, they may have to wait three years before they can start. Even if it gets planning permission, that does not mean that people can't appeal. People have rights. They have to be able to object and there has to be a strong regeneration argument. You can't just move people out of their houses because you want a [redeveloped] stadium. There have to be wider benefits to the area, that includes jobs and the environment."

COMMENTS

Didn't take long for Henry to go from the hero to the villain did it? All he needed to do was renovate Anfield as he promised and he'd have been the first American owner over there to truly be loved. Instead he's now going to be piled in with the likes of Glazer whom Manchester fans still loathe.

Posted by Dan on July 12, 2011 12:10 PM

The city of Liverpool already gave the Liverpool FC a 999 free lease on a parcel to build the stadium in Stanley Park 5 years ago. The problem is the same for the last 5 years that the club do not want to honor the "community" development stuff (there have already been 9 million dollars in park improvements that city is now telling Liverpool FC that they are on the hook for if they redevelop the current stadium).

The Henry plan to redevelop the Kop was a nice argument but really rooted in cold cost/benefit. It seems that not getting something for nothing makes things difficult for them. The city would be willing to let them do it of course but it sounds like they want to run roughshod over the neighborhood without giving anything back. So again, this is about the city and neighborhood actually expecting the team to do something in exchange for their beneft (as you stated above).

Posted by Floormaster Squeeze on July 12, 2011 12:40 PM

So if they build a new stadium in the park, are they required to kick in for anything more than construction costs? Or is this just a matter of Henry trying to leverage fans' love of Anfield to get out of a more expensive project without having to pay into a community fund?

I've been Googling this to no avail, though I did find this excellent quote from a 2006 article about the original lease deal: "If financing is approved, building work could begin early next year with the first match pencilled in for August 2009." Ah, that "if."

Posted by Neil deMause on July 12, 2011 01:42 PM

I am a soccer fan but I only follow the English leagues a little.

The original plan (I do not know what has changed as I do not follow it that closely) was that there was some "community" development that included both make the park nicer (I think that has already been done) and some other necessary community investment. I do not know the scale or specifics but I do know that it was agreed to and is necessary from the city point of view. I think your other question seems on the mark; the grand park scheme was expensive both in the direct field construction but also in the community "add-ins" so a lot of posturing is going on to reduce costs regardless of what is done.

Meanwhile, Man City has promised all kinds of "community investment" as part of its stadium naming rights deal (with some facility expansion). It seems that giving back something is a necessary condition in England. Although the huge stadium naming deal was probably just a way to get around "Fair Play" financing regulation of the sport (Man City would otherwise have a huge financial outflow which is against UEFA rules).

Posted by Floormaster Squeeze on July 12, 2011 03:17 PM

John Henry and Fenway Sports will be okay if they keep their promises. LFC's prior owners, Gillett and Hicks made the error of saying: ""The first spade will start going into the ground on that project by March [2007]." Certainly a rash statement if not a promise. Hopes were raised and dashed by time.

The council's concern about the local residents sunlight is hooey. Most of the houses around Anfield are derelict and archaic. The entire area should have been bulldozed and redeveloped 40 years ago.

Posted by Aitken Drum on July 13, 2011 12:19 AM

John Henry and Fenway Sports will be okay if they keep their promises. LFC's prior owners, Gillett and Hicks made the error of saying: ""The first spade will start going into the ground on that project by March [2007]." Certainly a rash statement if not a promise. Hopes were raised and dashed by time.

The council's concern about the local residents sunlight is hooey. Most of the houses around Anfield are derelict and archaic. The entire area should have been bulldozed and redeveloped 40 years ago.

Posted by Aitken Drum on July 13, 2011 12:20 AM

Aitken:

The houses may be old and in less than pristine condition. But unless Henry and co are willing to buy them at a price that allows the present owners to obtain acceptable housing elsewhere, why should the residents be forced to move?

Since LFC has been at this process for a while, I have to assume they've tried the compulsory order route and found it unsuccessful.

Put it this way, if LFC have the dosh to build a new stadium, $50M or so to buy a couple of hundred run down "archaic & derelict houses" shouldn't be a problem, should it?

Posted by John Bladen on July 13, 2011 01:15 AM

Looks like it is the New York Yankees situation all over again. The only thing is that it is houses instead of parks. The ironic thing is that the stadium is a bandbox compared to most of Europe's soccer stadiums. The only other comparisions one can make is that the stadium is about as big as Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. A new stadium can be built right next to the parking lot.

Personally, I don't think a Fenway style rehab is possible. In fact, the rehab that would likely compare to this situation is the 1974-75 rehab of Yankee Stadium. Fenway still looks the same as it did throughout most of its history, they just spruced up the place and added seats to the Green Monster and not one square inch of land was acquired.

Posted by Jessy S. on July 13, 2011 02:23 AM

Actually, Jessy, the Red Sox did buy a couple of adjacent buildings to Fenway, so they could move their kitchen and back-office operations there. (The Laundry Building and, um, one other maybe? Erika, you out there?) That wouldn't help with Anfield, presumably, since they want to add a substantial number of seats, not just concessions areas.

Posted by Neil deMause on July 13, 2011 08:20 AM

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